Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The People in the Pews

She scanned the people in the pews and wondered what in the world Jesus was trying to teach her during this festive holiday season. When she took inventory of her life, it was mostly all good. God had blessed her with a kind husband, a sure marriage, provision--not too little and not too much, and strong, healthy children that made her marvel everyday. She was not for want of anything in this regard.

So why this feeling of void? Of loneliness?

Maybe those bitter feelings that would forever be left unresolved and that she was forever confessing to the Lord were rearing their ugly heads--demanding cultivation that she refused to give because she knew it would not be to the glory of God. Her parents had estranged themselves from her--one actively, one passively--but forsaken she was, and shy of the miracle of their rebirth, forsaken she would remain.

She hadn't spoken to her dad for two years but his last words to her had been, "You have a nice family, you're doing a good job." Oh, how she cherished the memory of those words! It was the first expression of praise he had afforded her since she made it known to him a decade earlier that she was to be baptized a Christian. Until that sweet moment of reassurance, his disappointment about her choices to have more than 2 children, raise and educate them at home and be a wife to her husband had been veiled by a polite silence, but occasionally the concern would show with statements like, "Maybe she's not done yet. Maybe she'll still do something." But mostly they filled the conversational void left between their expectations and her choices with praise and relish over her younger sister's accomplishments.

Younger sister--we'll call her Ann--was a college-educated elementary school teacher. But ironically, it was never the love of teaching or an interest in bettering young people that was the object of their talk--it was only and ever about Ann's ability to run a disciplined classroom. Her boast was that her students respected her with a healthy fear and that she didn't take any guff from them. A good and necessary start to any successful learning environment, to be sure, but not what the older sister remembered best about her own profoundly-impacting teachers.

Ann and her husband both held degrees in psychology and had a very different instruction manual by which they raised their children than did the older sister--we'll call her Michelle--and her husband who now turned to the Bible for their wisdom. With that in mind, Michelle packed for a long overdue trip to visit the family and readied herself to see a different style of parenting. Her experience with educated, secular parents over many years of neighborhood playgroups taught her that parents of that persuasion tended to explain and negotiate with their toddlers. It could be irritating to watch, but it was better than nothing--which was mostly what she found when she arrived at the family home that December.

When the sisters had spoken weeks earlier, Ann had wanted Michelle's youngest children to come for a sleepover at her house. She imagined that it would be grand fun like they, themselves, had enjoyed with their own cousins 30 years ago. But, ever the pragmatist, Michelle politely declined the invitation acknowledging that her 7 and 5 year old children had never been on an overnight away from their parents and that these cousins were still very young and didn't really know one another and that she didn't think that this rare opportunity to be with the grandparents was the right time to introduce such upheaval, but that she was really looking forward to visiting with her sister's family over an evening meal during their travel. Michelle hung up the phone with a sense of acceptance--it seemed as though she and her younger sister, Ann, had finally arrived at a place where they could respect each other.

But when Michelle arrived at the family home, she was surprised to find her niece on Grandpa's couch, burying her face in a pillow, too shy to greet the far-away branch of the family. The hosts placed their favorite granddaughter to sleep between her cousins in a queen-sized bed and it didn't take long for the differences in training and personality to divide the young girls. But with Ann not in attendance during the unwelcome sleep over, it was left to Michelle to do what she could to keep the peace. For the sake of Christ, she encouraged her own daughters to exercise grace and be meek in the face of broken confidences, humiliation and favoritism.

On the second day, the niece still stayed, and the social dynamics of The Lord of the Flies began to play themselves out. Michelle and her husband decided that these cousins needed an adult to supervise their play every minute, and since Ann and her husband weren't there for more than about an hour at dinner one evening, the responsibility fell largely upon them. By the third day, the effort was so fatiguing that the visitors made their excuses and left for the airport six hours early to spend the extra time hanging around fast food restaurants and airport gates.

Within a week after she got home, Michelle--who felt she had no voice in the midst of this family--unpacked her feelings and observations about her niece's need for Jesus on a blog post. It was a blog that no one in the family ever read, she felt certain. Her mother had read through it uninvited once upon a time, but had sworn off it nearly a year earlier out of respect--so said Michelle's aunt--her mother's older sister.

But the hearsay didn't hold, because the mother came back, found the stated facts offensive, and instead of calling Michelle with her complaint, made sure that everyone in the family who weren't ever going to see it, saw it.

When the offense was brought to her attention, Michelle removed the post and wrote a public apology, but it was too late. The damage was done and spread to the far reaches of the family.

For years, Michelle had burdened her husband with late night talks about what, if anything, she should do about the situation. What should she think about the situation? "Nothing." was the counsel of her wise husband. This wasn't about the blog post. This was about her Christianity.

And he was right. The disparity between the crime and its consequence was too great to make sense. This was about Jesus. This was about Michelle the Christian being called to choose The Savior above even her own blood ties as they were clearly choosing their antagonism toward Christ over their blood tie to her.


And that's what the Lord taught her this season as she sat in church on Christmas Eve, feeling inexplicably lonely surrounded by so very many people. She had been called to leave mother and father and sister to follow Christ, and not one other person in the room, to her knowledge, had had to do the same. Not really.

When she surveyed the room, she imagined that among these dedicated people were the ones who would be her friend, her sister, her mother, her father. From among these people, surely Jesus would give to her 100 fold, that which she had lost for His sake.

But not today. Today, the Body is largely weakened in its fellowship because the sword of separation has been dulled by the privilege of freedom and because the world outside the church likes to pat itself on the back and imagine that it still holds a high regard for tolerance--high enough to be accepting of Christians. But someday--by some circumstance--the Lord will sharpen His blade and strengthen His Bride.

Woe. And glory!


sara said...

I remember when you had some stuff going on and even thought about taking the blog private for awhile.

I'm sorry for your lonliness. Sometimes I feel that way too.

Civilla said...

Wow, that was a great post.

missy said...

I have a different story and different circumstances, but I know that loneliness very well. I hope you take comfort in knowing that God knows what you've sacrificed. He knows.

Tammi Kay said...

Sad, but lovely... Kind and gentle as always. I haven't spoken to my family in almost 3 years. I understand. It's such a privilege to know the Lord never fails us.

Terry @ Breathing Grace said...

"Maybe she'll still do something..."

You're not as alone as you imagine. It is as you say: The stars have not yet aligned in a way that will cause us who love Jesus to cling to one another as we ought- as the first century church did.

But they will.

Beautiful post.

Patti said...

I think sometimes covert rejection is more difficult to handle than overt, don't you? It's very difficult to confront, because things are so subtle, and we seem petty when we bring things up. Your husband was so right, I don't think we accomplish anything when we try to defend ourselves...except sounding defensive!
I'm praying for you, as I've experienced so much of this myself...the favored younger "accomplished" sister (completely lacking morals, and child-rearing skills- but accomplished in the wordly sense!), the family gossip, etc. My wise husband says the same as yours- the issue isn't the issue- it is the Gospel that brings division, even though on the surface it seems it is our weaknesses... or what others perceive as weaknesses.
Stand strong, friend! Your lives are testimonies that stand the test of time.
P.S. Remember my wedding? I had a host of family and friends who mocked openly as well as behind our backs...but it was all worth it to me when 20 plus years later you told me it impacted you !!:)

KAlexaLott said...

You are not alone. I too experience the loneliness that this season, especially, can bring. I haven't spoken to my family for almost six years. I too have a younger, favored sibling, alcholic though he may be. It is true that Christ divides, and it is hard. But somehow I know, as I do, that you wouldn't trade the life you have with your husband and daughters to go back to being a "part" of that life. I have found the hardest part of being a "shoot from the tree of Jesse" is realizing that while I am growing in a different direction, I am still rooted in my past. Sometimes I'd rather just cut myself off, root myself and grow my own tree. Hugs to you and yours.

MiPa said...

The way of the cross seems foolish to those who have not heeded the call of the cross. And it can be lonely. But you are so right that it is not finished with this loneliness...the final justification is still to come.

My loneliness this year did not come from physical family (in fact they were here all the way from Texas) but from my spiritual family who are choosing tradition over obedience. And it is hard. But the way of obedience is the only path to follow.

Praying for you and your dear family as you follow your path of obedience.

jAne said...

This is my first time visiting your blog. I don't believe in coincidences. I read this post for a reason - to know that I'm not the only one - to know that even in loneliness, our Lord is faithful.

jAne * tickleberryfarm.blogspot.com

Martie said...

So thankful that,"He setteth the solitary in families." Thanks so much for sharing! (Glad to have you back!)


MamaArcher said...

That was a great post! I am sorry for your loneliness but thankful for the love of the Lord! I too have dealt with having distance between myself and my family to follow in the steps of Christ. Thank you for sharing. You are not truly alone.

Anonymous said...

Bookmarked this. Show one's gratitude you after sharing. Definitely value my time.

Dillo said...

Ha! I *exhaled* with you towards the end there! Thought provoking post; and a little different than your usual. That's a good thing! Thanks for stretching yourself-and, yes, welcome back again!

Yeah, I'm reading through John Pipers newest book---about missions being successful 'by the blood of the martyrs'. I suspect Christ will use harsh measures to wean us off the world!

me said...

I am so thankful for the love and support of family, although they live on another continent. Sadly, it is at church that we have experienced the bone-crushing loneliness that can only come in the midst of those you love. May you find comfort in the everlasting arms of our eternal God.
PS Your daughter has been a great encouragement to my daughter, Meg. Thank you.

I live IN Jesus said...

Dear GB-
SO glad to read a post from you again!!! You have a gift from the Lord to write VERY thought provoking and eye opening posts!

I, too, experience a similiar rejection from my family in the name of some circumstance when it really is Jesus Christ they are rejecting....I just night before last wrestled with the Lord in the middle of the night about such questions as "Lord, have I done something wrong and I am just not aware?" "should I do something more?" "how do I handle this, Lord?" There is also the perpetual need to let go of resentments from the mistreatment to my children(who are COMPLETELY innocent), so as not to become unforgiving and bitter.....This is some VERY tough stuff. I am trusting Jesus that He will present the opportunity if ever there was need to communicate. Until then I intercede for them and fight for their salvation the only way that I know how.

I will include you in my prayers as well. I can totally understand your lonliness, mine is the same....

Another thing that is hard are the dreams that I had of my mom just being my mommy and a brother/sister relationship that is you know supportive and thoughtful, kind, loving....So there is greiving for the loss of dreams that aren't.

I am so sorry for you. THANK GOD you have Him! He is the only source of true comfort.

God bless,
Sarah T

Heather said...

So.very.hard...loneliness seems to be the wicked ones' weapon of choice in these times.

I've tried to rally and get back to blogging too...and then, I fall off the wagon lol...oh dear. :)

Anonymous said...

Please, please, please don't go away again. Please don't desert us again for that facebook thing.

Miss Rocky

Madeleine said...

Our valleys are different, but the same. It is in the valley that all the growing happens. It is in the valley that beauty blooms.

And I know this, for I have a deep valley that has lastest for almost 5 years so far. And I keep thinking I am about to get out!! Halleluia!

But no. I am still here. Hoping and praying, and lonely as all get out.

Thank you for sharing.

And how have you been?